England’s players will today get their first glimpse of a pitch that threatens to embarrass organisers of the first ever international at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus.
The pitch in the 170m stadium is dry, pitted and covered in places with sand after a series of remedial treatments left the grass arid and damaged.
Fifa declined to let reporters, film crews or photographers pitch-side during a tour of the stadium on Thursday, saying that last-minute preparations for photographers prevented access.
Somehow Fifa and local organisers have conspired to produce a pitch that is dry, sandy and hard, quite a feat in the rainy season at the heart of the planet’s largest rainforest.
Ground staff spent Thursday afternoon spraying the surface, but Fifa was unable to confirm if fertiliser or dye was being applied.
In a statement Fifa conceded that “mitigation procedures” had been required to try and get the pitch fit for the Group D opening match between England and Italy on Saturday evening.
“Over the last three months mitigation procedures have been put in place and there continues to be significant improvement.
“Pitch experts from Fifa and the local organising committee are satisfied the pitch will be ready for training and matches.”
Cosmetic work was also taking place on the stadium on Thursday, with Tarmac being laid and painted in the carpark as cleaners raced to get the stadium fit for the players.
Roy Hodgson rejected the chance for the squad to train outside on Thursday despite arriving a day ahead of their rivals, confining themselves to their hotel gym.
Had they ventured beyond the air conditioning they would have found conditions as hot and humid as expected.
Temperatures reached 31C in mid afternoon, and while cloud cover and a breeze took the edge off come dusk, when England will kick-off, it remained in the high 20s.
Players union FIFPro criticised the pitch and choice of Manaus, saying “players deserve a quality playing surface and conditions that reflect what is meant to be the world’s premier football event”.
England’s players say they are unconcerned.
“We’ve done all we possibly can. We’ve been playing and training in host conditions now,” said centre-half Gary Cahill.
“Miami was roasting and we’ve experienced the humidity over here in Brazil when we’ve trained.”
They will find a small but committed group of England fans in the stadium to back them no matter what the condition of the pitch.
Up to 3,000 England fans are expected to attend, some of whom have come down river from Colombia by boat.
Police told Sky News there had been no trouble.
“They are excited to be here and we are just watching them, we have had no trouble at all,” said Lieutenant Peclat of the Manaus Tourist Police.
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13 June 2014 | 2:55 am – Source: orange.co.uk